10-05-2006, 10:58 AM
Hey, has anyone seen this?
10-05-2006, 11:34 AM
Why must I be a teenager in love?
Degrassi and South of Nowhere put the dirt back in teen soaps
By: SHARON STEEL
10/4/2006 10:47:07 AM
It’s late on a weeknight, and I’m sitting alone on the couch, wringing my hands and shrieking at the television, when my roommate ambles into the living room. “She’s hot,” he says, pointing to the very pretty, very curvaceous girl on the screen who’s parading down a hallway in ass-hugging jeans that ride so low they’d have the old Britney snapping her gum in approval. “Who is she?” Mike asks. “Oh, that’s Manny Santos,” I say. During the commercials I give him the lowdown. A few months ago Manny was still collecting stuffed animals and wearing oversized sweatshirts. Now she’s slutting it up something fierce, hoping the sight of her bright blue thong will win over Craig, the object of her affection. Except Craig is in love with Ashley, the smart, songwriting emo girl he serenades, with high-school-hipster grandeur, in an empty gymnasium on his guitar. “Is that Ashley?”, Mike asks, pointing again, the break over. “I can’t explain this to you now,” I say, waving him away. “Just tell me which one is Ashley,” he demands. I shake my head. Nobody talks during a Degrassi: The Next Generation marathon. Craig and Manny are about to do it, and there’s so much twisted chemistry between them, it’s difficult for me to watch with both eyes open, let alone discuss the obvious.
I graduated from high school six years ago, and yet I can’t seem to stop reliving it. Not my own high-school experience but a fictional one, written about a cross-section of teens who attend the Degrassi Community School in Toronto. On Degrassi: TNG, which premiered its sixth season on September 29 (it airs every Friday at 8 on the N, Viacom’s digital cable channel), date rape and on-campus suicide-murders are packaged for audiences sans overwrought script pyrotechnics — none of the stilted thesaurus-speak of Dawson’s Creek, no neat story arcs, no overlayers of Significance. Hysterical teenagers don’t edit their journals to make them sound less like life. Neither does Degrassi.
By virtue of its design, the show has spawned a passionate following beyond its core demographic of tweens and teens. Portraying the crash-and-burn of puberty is one way to lure a Degrassi fanatic outside the 13-18 box. That’s not unique, of course. What makes Degrassi different is that, unlike other contemporary teen histrionic fests, it doesn’t bother to pressure-cook adolescence into an easily swallowed pill of fantasy lifestyles. Linda Schuyler, a former junior-high-school teacher and the show’s creator, would prefer it if you were reacting: sobbing, cringing, snickering, and gagging at what you see. At the same time, she wouldn’t mind a bit if you absorbed some of the coming-of-age tutorials she slides into the story lines, lacing the semi-trashy My So-Called Life–esque scandals with a dose of Full House. In spite of some overt after-school-special lessons, the writers of Degrassi: TNG craft plot lines so controversial that the N refused to air an episode titled “Accidents Will Happen” in which Manny terminates her pregnancy, inadvertently prompting Degrassi zealots to download the “lost” two-parter on-line or query message boards as to why the effusive Manny seemed so depressed in subsequent episodes. CTV, which broadcasts Degrassi in Canada, did air “Accidents.”
Degrassi operates under the casually cool assumption that you’ve already been there and done that (or will), and that high school isn’t glamorous or pre-packaged with a laugh track. Some of the show’s stars are attractive, yet no one is the type of knockout that would be first choice for a glossy magazine. Most are pimple-faced and gangly, with an unfortunate fashion sense brilliantly projected by the show’s stylists. Plus, these relative unknowns are actually playing characters their own age.
The show embraces the high highs and low lows of the collective teenage unconscious, a period in life where you’re constantly wondering why life sucks. It revolves around characters with problems — lots of them, enough to keep a guidance counselor busy long past 3 pm. Goody-goody Emma gives shady Jay a blow job, and he gives her gonorrhea. Ellie slices her wrists with the same protractor she uses to do geometry homework. Gavin, a/k/a Spinner, morphs from princess cheerleader Paige’s heartthrob boy toy into an almost friendless hardcore bully and goes on to frame former best friend Jimmy, who gets shot in the back and paralyzed for life. Episodes usually end with a cut to one character’s face as he or she contends with the realization that things aren’t going to get wrapped up neatly by the end of the half-hour.
South of Nowhere, created by Thomas W. Lynch, is an original series that follows Degrassi at 8:30 and is in a similar mold. The show, now in its second season, is even more sex-centric than Degrassi — hedonistic entertainment that lacks moral messaging, though it makes up for that by dealing with one girl’s sexual-identity crisis, whereas most televised gay teens tend to be boys. On this season’s debut episode, 16-year-old Spencer wakes up in someone else’s bed with a huge question answered: she’s gay, best friend Ashley is gay, and they’ve finally hooked up, but her love life is more complicated than ever. In the meantime, her mother is cheating on her father, her adopted black brother is searching for his birth mother, and the savvy Los Angeles kids at her school aren’t going to go any easier on her for being a lesbian just because she’s skinny and blonde. South of Nowhere could be mistaken for an Aaron Spelling production thanks to the sparkle of its beautiful cast. Underneath, however, the drama is serrated: trenchant, natural dialogue, unconventional indie-film camerawork, and subtly racy story lines that pull the rug out from under aging Carrie Bradshaw and company.
Degrassi’s franchise on teen angst has its roots in 1980, long before the advent of Comcast. Back then, Schuyler teamed up with Kit Hood, a video editor and former child actor, to produce a new mini-series called The Kids of Degrassi Street. It spun off into the Degrassi Junior High and Degrassi High series; both aired in the US on PBS, and a 1991 TV movie, School’s Out, followed several Degrassi characters after they graduated. A documentary series, Degrassi Talks, appeared to be the final stage in the Degrassi evolution. Nearly a decade later, in 2001, Degrassi was given the digital version of a pre-prom makeover. Stripped of its ’80s pallor, vamped up with a fresh cast and ultra-provocative plots, the show was resurrected as Degrassi: The Next Generation. Schuyler still has the helm as executive producer. Several of the original Degrassi kids, now adult actors, have minor roles on the new show. (Amanda Stepto, who played Christine a/k/a Spike Nelson on Degrassi Junior High, a punk-rocker who got pregnant with Emma, now plays Emma’s mother.)
Degrassi: TNG has plenty of critics who deem it offensive, demoralizing, and immature — and it’s true that the show addresses issues by seizing on extremes. The acting is nowhere near perfect, either, particularly in earlier seasons. But according to Nielsen ratings from Season Five, Degrassi ranked #1 with female teens on all cable and broadcast networks, and the show in its various forms has now been around for more than 25 years. People are still getting pissed at Madonna for trying to crucify herself on her last tour, and she still sells a lot of tickets. Degrassi has reinvented its image much in the same way. Taking things a little over the edge comes with the territory.
**** continues to hit the proverbial fan on Season Six. Several of Degrassi’s graduates have moved on to college, and a few former students, such as bad-ass Sean and moody Ashley, who left the show during Season Five, will return. Last year’s juniors are running the place as seniors, ratcheting up the drama as relationships among the gang get even more incestuous. But thank God this isn’t The OC, with a mere four major players to boff and break up. Degrassi: TNG has a principal cast of 11 and a supporting cast of nine; five adult cast members dealing with their own bull**** and baggage round out the student-body and parental units to 25. There are plenty of surprise transformations, too: horrifically gawky Emma has blossomed from an anorectic Save the Earth fiend into a A-list hottie, born-again Christian goody-goody Darcy has started taking naughty pics of the Spirit Squad, and the supposedly reformed Sean is running from the law again. And again. It seems the Degrassi catch phrase “100 percent intense” doesn’t actually have a saturation point.
Degrassi reruns often on the N, as many as 20 hours a week — the seasons themselves are short and are followed by months of repeats. Yet the trajectory of the show evolves on a marathon in a way that doesn’t quite compare to outdated reruns of other teen dramas. Perhaps it’s because you’re observing the cast grow up in front of you, both physically and as actors. Or maybe it’s those heart-crushing moments that translate so well from screen to life and back again. In Season Three, after Craig cheats on Ashley, he can’t get over the freeze she puts on to save face. “I’m sorry,” he screams at her, in front of the school. “I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry! How many times do I have to say it?” “Until you mean it,” she replies, turning on the heels of her Converse sneakers and stalking off. Inside, you just know she’s a wreck. I can’t think of a single person who hasn’t been hurt that deeply — which makes watching it incredibly awkward. A part of me always wants to hit MUTE or change the channel when I see it, but I never do. Anyone can fake a gorgeous adolescence for prime time. Degrassi turns the volume up exactly when life gets ugly, twisting all that pain into something that begs to be savored.
Copyright © 2006 The Phoenix Media/Communications Group
10-16-2006, 05:19 PM
Thanks for sharing the article!!! GO DEGRASSI!!!!!!!!!! :D
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